Bush: No pullout timetable

President Bush, with his assertion Thursday that the surge of U.S. military forces in Iraq has "renewed and revived the prospect of success," is signaling that he is ready to hunker down with a disputed war strategy for the remainder of his presidency and hand off a nearly six-year-old war to his successor.

When the drawdown of added combat forces deployed to Iraq last year is completed this summer, the president said, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, will have "all the time he needs" to make an assessment of the impact of a reduced presence before discussing further reductions.

And with critics from Capitol Hill to the campaign trail calling for an end to a war that has lost the support of most Americans, Bush is pressing Congress for an additional $108 billion to fund it.

"We have the initiative," Bush declared, standing on a stage of Klieg-lighted marble pillars in the grand Cross Hall of the White House before an audience of several dozen invited guests. "Thanks to the surge, we’ve renewed and revived the prospect of success."


Yet with his repeated claim of success, critics find an unwillingness to acknowledge reality. They see a sign that the president plans to let the war play out as it stands for his remaining time.

The president’s legacy now appears certain to include the handoff of a war that has cost more than 4,000 American lives and over $600 billion.

"It’s abundantly clear that President Bush is simply trying to ‘run out the clock’ and hand off the mess to the next president," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said.

In announcing a rollback in the length of deployments for troops headed to Iraq starting in August, Bush has acknowledged the "strain" placed on American forces with extended 15-month deployments ordered last year. Starting this summer, the president said, none who leave for Iraq will stay longer than 12 months, and all will get at least 12 months home.

The president says the current drawdown will leave 25 percent fewer forces in Iraq this summer than the U.S. had last year. Yet the withdrawal of about 20,000 combat forces added last year, which have been supplemented with many support troops since then, will actually leave more American forces stationed in Iraq than the U.S. had — about 130,000 — before Bush first ordered the "surge" of new forces in January 2007.

Democratic presidential candidates promising an end to the war say it is clear that Bush plans to leave it to his successor, and they are warning voters that Republican Sen. John McCain, the party’s presumptive nominee, supports the president’s war strategy.

"In other words, there is no end in sight under the Bush policy," said Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat seeking his party’s presidential nomination and vowing to end the war if he is elected in November.

"Once again, President Bush is asking Americans for time and patience, but the American people are saying he’s had enough of both," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, the New York Democrat challenging Obama for the nomination


With the president facing pressure from both Democratic congressional leaders and the party’s presidential candidates to withdraw more forces more quickly, the Bush administration instead is calling on Congress to underwrite a new, $108 billion war-financing plan. If any strings are attached — such as timelines for withdrawal that Democratic leaders have previously sought unsuccessfully — Bush vows another veto.


Critics complain of not only the human toll the war has taken but also its effect on the nation’s economy, with a U.S. defense budget that will reach its highest level since World War II in 2009, in terms adjusted for inflation. Yet Bush maintained that defense spending is less, as a percentage of the overall economy today — 4 percent — than what the U.S. devoted to defense during the Cold War — 13 percent. And the stakes, he insisted, are just as great.

"Today, we face an enemy that is not only expansionist in its aims but has actually attacked our homeland — and intends to do so again," Bush said, insisting that spending "pales when compared to the cost of another terrorist attack on our people."

Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also suggested that the debate over U.S. involvement may lead to decisions "that are gratifying in the short term but very costly to our country and the American people in the long term."

Gates drew parallels between cutting back in Iraq and the U.S. decision to disengage from Afghanistan after the Russians left: "We were attacked from Afghanistan in 2001 and we are at war in Afghanistan today in no small measure because of mistakes this government made. ... If we get the endgame wrong in Iraq, I predict the consequences will be far worse."


(Chicago Tribune correspondent Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.)



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